Francesca Rudkin is an entertainment reviewer for NZ Herald.

Movie review: The Jungle Book

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Any concern that Disney has messed with Rudyard Kipling's classic tale with this live action remake, lovingly rendered on the big screen by the animation company in 1967, are dispelled just by the trailer.

With dramatic music, dark and stylised visuals and realistic talking animals who look like they've just walked out of a National Geographic shoot, the trailer gives the impression it's quite an adventure.

It looked a bit much for my kids, who asked not to go - which is a first.

Scene from the Jungle Book. Photo / Disney
Scene from the Jungle Book. Photo / Disney

This version of The Jungle Book is the work of filmmaker Jon Favreau, who has form for delivering great films for kids of all ages, from the Iron Man franchise to Zathura: A Space Adventure.

More recently, he reverted to an effects-free heartfelt family drama, Chef. Now, thanks to extraordinary technology, Favreau has created a modern day retelling that's faithful to the spirit of Kipling's book.

This is the kind of film most actors would be desperate to be involved with; there's only one role, which everything revolves around. Mowgli is a boy who's grown up in the jungle after being adopted by a pack of wolves, and newcomer Neel Sethi gives an outstanding performance. Genuine and capable of dealing with a range of emotions, he's managed to conjure up his performance from in front of a green screen in a studio.

For this version of The Jungle Book to work, the relationship between Mowgli and the jungle animals, led by friends Bagheera the black panther (Kingsley) and Baloo the bear (Murray), has to be seamless - and it is.

Scene from the Jungle Book. Photo / Disney
Scene from the Jungle Book. Photo / Disney

It's almost impossible to work out where reality stops and the visual effects begin - so don't waste anytime trying, just enjoy the world Favreau and his team have created.

Sethi handles the technical aspects of the shoot with aplomb, while also managing to run, climb trees and leap about with the dexterity of a kid who's grown up around monkeys, wolves and other animals. Guardian Bagheera has encouraged this activity, as opposed to Mowgli's human "tricks", which Bagheera foresees will bring trouble.

Mowgli's story begins when Shere Khan (Elba), a scar-faced tiger, demands the wolf pack hand him over, and Bagheera decides the safest thing for everyone is to take Mowgli to the nearest village where he can be integrated back into living with humans.

Scene from the Jungle Book. Photo / Disney
Scene from the Jungle Book. Photo / Disney

Along the way Mowgli meets Baloo, brilliantly brought to life by Murray. Baloo brings lightness, warmth and humour, and the relationship between boy and bear helps Mowgli decide how and where he wants to live his life.

The Jungle Book is filled with some harsh life lessons, and to Favreau's credit he doesn't shy-away from the darker elements; so though there are lovely, cuddly Disney moments, there's also a decent amount of grit and realism.

Scene from the Jungle Book. Photo / Disney
Scene from the Jungle Book. Photo / Disney

This makes it a film the whole family can enjoy, although watching Mowgli come face-to-face with a devilish snake (Johansson) or meet the imposing gigantopithecus orangutan King Louie (Walken) may be too much for preschoolers.

Best to watch the trailer, and go from there. Like me, you might get to enjoy this remarkable film peacefully on your own.

Scene from the Jungle Book. Photo / Disney
Scene from the Jungle Book. Photo / Disney

The Jungle Book

Cast: Neel Sethi, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray
Director: Jon Favreau
Running Time: 106 mins
Rating: PG (Violence, scary scenes)
Verdict: A contemporary classic.

- TimeOut

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